Every new arrival wants to know if they can survive or live well in Thailand on X thousand baht a month?

It's a difficult question because each person has different needs. However, the following surveys and figures are from teachers actually working here! How much do they earn and what do they spend their money on?. And after each case study, I've added comments of my own.

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Tommy

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 150,000 baht (give or take)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

125,000 is my full time net salary from a fairly decent international school. The other 25,000 isn't fixed and comes from tutoring students in the run up to their exams (IGCSEs and A-levels).

There are some months where I receive significantly more - August for example when I receive a 13th month bonus and May when I get my flight allowance. 150k is a 'typical month'

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

80 -100,000 a month, occasionally more when the 'extras' are paid. To me, this feels like a lot. I used to teach in the UK and saved the equivalent of 10k a month (although I suppose I was paying into the teachers' pension scheme).

For a professionally qualified teacher (QTS or equivalent), I can't see a financial reason to work in the UK. Despite the lack of a proper pension, a person with zero savings can comfortably fund a reasonable retirement of indefinite length with 20 years of savings (in my opinion anyway).

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I pay 13K (my girlfriend pays another 13K). We've got a 2-bedroom condo in a building with nice facilities within walking distance of Mo Chit BTS. My girlfriend is Thai and works as an auditor. She earns more than I do and we generally keep our finances separate, which suits us both.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

The BTS to work and back (80 baht per day) and an occasional taxi comes to a few thousand a month. Not a major expense.

Utility bills

1,000 for electricity, 100 for water, 350 for internet (these numbers are low as 50% of the bills are met by the girfriend) and 500 for my phone. So about 2,000 per month.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

A lot. I like food, a lot. Breakfast is cheap and lunch is free at work. Dinner and weekend meals are usually expensive though. I'd guess 20 - 25K a month covers an average month. During the long school holidays however....

Nightlife and drinking

A like a pint (several pints), but only do this a couple of times a month. I'm north of 40 now so am happier having a few in the Black Swan than in the bars and clubs around Sukhumvit. So maybe 2,000 a month?

Books, computers

I buy books when I go away on holiday, but it's not a major expense. Neither are computers (I've never seen computers as a monthly expense - you buy one every few years right?)

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Incredible. I have a comfortable life in a world-class city and save well, especially at these uncertain times. A lot of expats I know in other fields of work have lost jobs and returned to their home countries. Whilst I am aware of teachers being affected financially, everyone in my circle of friends has kept their jobs, and the money has kept flowing. We who work in international education are lucky, very lucky.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Everything that isn't imported specifically for the expat market, and even these products aren't the kind of things that eat up the salary (I'm thinking of cheese, sausages and the like that cost several times the price they would back home). Otherwise, rent, local food, utilities, transport (apart from buying a car), home help etc. are all favourably priced.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I think you could live here (Bangkok) relatively comfortably for 50,000 per month. Don't do it though unless you are already independently wealthy. For everyone else, I'd suggest investing money and time into a professional teaching qualification (not a PGCEi or CELTA) that allows you to work in state schools in countries who export their systems of education (UK, USA, France etc). Once you have this then salaries of 100-200,000 per month are the norm and you can build a real life in Thailand.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thanks Tommy. I guess when a foreign teacher earns 150,000 baht a month and his partner earns even more, it's going to result in a fantastic standard of living.


Phil

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 40,000 baht (this was in 1996 - 25 years ago)

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I was working full-time at the Ramkhamhaeng branch of a private language school chain (head office was in Victory Monument). I was working six days a week and got Saturdays off. It sounds ridiculous now but some weeks I would do as many as 36 classroom hours (including 9 hours of TOEFL test prep and about 10 hours of academic writing). They were punishing schedules but when you're in your early 30s and you need the money, you find the energy from somewhere. I think my hourly rate was in the region of 250-300 baht.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

I was probably lucky to save 5,000 - 10,000 a month.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

8,000 baht a month, which at the time was almost double what my colleagues were spending on rent. It was probably more than what I should've been spending but I've always been a great believer in the more you spend on a nice place, the less you'll 'waste' on going out and on entertainment, etc.

I lived in a very nice studio apartment on Rama 4 Road, next to Klong Saem Saeb. Although it was only 30 square metres, the building owner had divided the room in half with a chipboard wall and then painted it, so it gave the impression of being a one-bedroomed apartment. It had hot water and a good air-con unit and there was a small restaurant downstairs that also doubled as the laundry. Nice staff as well. I always got on with them.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I used to catch the public bus to and from work. I think the air-con bus was 8 baht and the non-aircon was 3 baht. I used to catch whichever came first because my school was only 3-4 bus stops. So this expense was barely a few hundred baht a month. I did get the odd taxi at weekends though.

Utility bills

I always had the air-con going when I was in the apartment. My bill was usually in the region of 1,500 baht.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I look back and realise I never ate particularly well in those days. Not because I couldn't afford it but I could never seem to get myself organised. My main meal of the day would always be lunch, which was often grabbed from the shopping mall opposite the school. A lady in the food court there did a particularly good 'gaeng galee gai' (Indian style curry) for 30 baht. In the evening I'd either throw some sliced ham between two slices of killer white or walk to the nearby McDonalds before I got the bus home.

In 1996, you had nothing like the choice of Western fast food that you have now. There weren't that many McDonalds around, a few KFCs, Chester's Grill was quite popular, and that was pretty much your lot.

I generally skipped breakfast most mornings or I'd grab 10 baht's worth of 'pathong go' to dip in my coffee while I was preparing the day's lessons.

I guess all in all, eating and supermarket shopping came to about 6,000 a month.

Nightlife and drinking

Saturday night was always the big night out. It was the highlight of the week and they always followed the same pattern. 3-5 of us would meet in the staff-room and with neckties stuffed in our pockets, we'd start the evening about 6pm with a few cheap beers at a cafe in the shopping mall, then pile into a couple of taxis and head for the fleshpots of Sukhumwit Road. The German Beer Garden on Soi 8 was always a popular starting point but we'd nearly always end up in Cowboy, Nana Plaza or down 'The Pong' if we fancied a change of scenery (I never liked Patpong though)

In those days, beers were 40-80 baht tops, lady drinks were 40 baht. You could have a skinful of ale, a Maccy D opposite Patpong, a taxi home as the sun was coming up and you'd still have plenty of change from a thousand baht note. So probably 4,000 a month on entertainment.

Very occasionally I would go to the movie theatre (50 baht a ticket) or have a couple of hours on the green baize at one of the many snooker clubs dotted around that you just don't seem to see anymore. I can't remember for the life of me how much snooker was per hour but it wasn't expensive. And you always bunged a 50 baht tip to the markee (the young girl who worked at the club and who handed you the rest and put her hands in the pockets to fish your balls out)

Books, computers

These were the days well before the internet and smartphones so you never had those expenses to worry about. However, I was totally addicted to my Playstation and Lord knows how many hours of my life I wasted on Tomb Raider. A good friend and colleague would sometimes come round and we'd get a few cans from the old Chinaman at the dusty corner shop and have mammoth 'Resident Evil' sessions that would go on until the small hours. Not the smartest thing to do when you've got eight hours of teaching the following day.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

This is a really tough question to answer but 40,000 just seemed to be enough to do what I wanted to do. I never went hungry, I had some pretty wild Saturday nights out and any spare minute was usually spent on the Playstation. To be honest, I was doing that many bloody teaching hours, I didn't have time for much else. I never travelled much either. The thought of a few days away in Pattaya or Hua Hin didn't appeal to me. I just didn't have the time and I'd been to those places before anyway.

The one expense I did need to put money away for was the annual trip home to England to see family - and you did that as cheaply as you possibly could. I remember flying home one year with Bangladesh Biman via Dhaka, for 17,500 baht return. And of course when you get home, you kind of hope your family will take care of you (treat you to meals out, etc). One year I managed to scrape together 20,000 baht for spending money and it felt like a fortune.

I was a guy in my early 30s paying no attention whatsoever to his future and his retirement years but the truth is, I never worried about it. When you're footloose and fancy free, you just hope that things will eventually take care of themselves. I was about 40 when I realised that this is not the case.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Nothing was unaffordable to a teacher on 40K. You often hear folks say that Bangkok has become as expensive as any other international city, and while I wouldn't disagree with that, it's only half the story. You simply didn't have the temptations back then; there was less to spend your money on. So naturally, once you had paid your rent, your spending money went much further.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

Almost every foreign teacher earned around 30-40,000 baht a month, some even less that that. But we all lived reasonably well and I think that answers the question.

Phil's analysis and comment

Many thanks to my old mate, Anthony, who gave me the idea of stepping into a cost of living 'time machine' and going back to 1996 (25 years ago) We often say that teacher salaries in Thailand have hardly risen since then (partially true) but I think what's interesting is how much further your money went in the Bangkok of yesteryear.  


Nigel

Working in Pathum Thani, near Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 40,000 - 50,000

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I work for a private language school and should teach around 25 hours a week (so it's a decent workload when you factor in the prep time) I have a guaranteed salary of 40,000 baht and I used to be able to bump that up to 50,000 baht by teaching over 25 hours a week, but business has dropped off significantly since Co-vid came along (although that's not the only reason for the drop) So for the past year or so, I've had to get used to living on 40,000 and be grateful to get that. I know it's causing a significant strain on the school owner's finances.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

Next to nothing. I'm just drifting from one month to the next at the moment and waiting for things to improve.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I share a 7,000 baht a month studio apartment with my Thai girlfriend. In the past, when my partner was working, I paid 5,000 plus bills and she would chip in with 2,000 of her own. However, she hasn't paid anything since she lost her job in August and I am now supporting her 100%. I would be lying if I said the situation hadn't put a strain on our relationship and that's no fun when you're living in the same 30 square metres.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I can take a local bus from my apartment building to the school so this doesn't break 500 baht a month. I've even thought about buying a bicycle to save the 500 baht and hopefully get a bit fitter at the same time, but at the moment I'm still on the bus.

Utility bills

We try to be as frugal as possible with the air-conditioning because that's the thing that sends those monthly bills through the roof. Usually it's about 2,000 baht a month.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We have a great little Thai restaurant on the ground floor of the building that charges about 60 baht a dish, so my partner waits until I get home in the evening and we'll order something from downstairs and eat together in the room. Wrestling with the elastic bands on our bags of garlic chicken and rice is something of a daily ritual. We try to keep the monthly food bill down to about 10,000. We rarely / never do Western restaurants. They are just too expensive and my partner doesn't care for Western food much anyway.

Nightlife and drinking

I'll occasionally have a couple of beers on a Friday night with what work colleagues remain but I don't make a habit of it. Conversation usually turns to the three of us wondering what the future holds and that's no way to spend a Friday night.

Books, computers

Nothing really. I have a 5,000 baht smartphone and a beat-up old laptop.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

It isn't great trying to support two of you on 40,000. Even 50,000 isn't really enough. Every time we discuss having a long weekend away, we add up the costs and decide to stay home. We are definitely going without, but as I said, I'm hoping better times are just around the corner.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

Thai food from hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

I really think you ought to change this question Phil to 'how much money does anyone need to earn in order to have a decent lifestyle?' If you are talking about just 'surviving', then I'm surviving perfectly well on 40K and could probably exist on less - but who would want to?
Of course, if you change the question, you then have the problem that everyone has a different interpretation of the word 'decent' but for me it's being able to afford weekends away, an annual trip back home to see the family, good health insurance, saving maybe 20,000 a month and eating and drinking more or less what you want, whenever you want (within reason) And even as a single guy in Bangkok, I can't see anyone doing all that on less than 80-100,000 a month. So I'm not even halfway there am I?

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Nigel for an honest survey that certainly pulls no punches. These are desperate times for a lot of private language schools I know. I guess not only have student numbers dropped off due to Co-vid but also many have turned to studying online. 

I think you're probably right and we should change that final question but as you say, we all have a different definition of 'decent lifestyle' (as the wide variety of these surveys have proved)

It sounds like getting your partner back in work should be a priority. Even an extra 20,000 coming into the household every month would make a big difference.  


Carl

Working in Bangkok

Monthly Earnings 140,000 baht after tax

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

That is my full-time salary

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

My wife also works at an international school so we save all of her money which is a similar amount to me. We use my salary to live on.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

We live in a 4-bed, five-bedroom house out near Don Muang Airport. We pay 25K a month

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

About 1,000 baht a week on petrol plus the car repayments of 20,000 a month.

Utility bills

Water is pretty cheap at about 200 baht but we like our AC so the electricity can get as high as 9,000 a month. Internet is a further 900 baht a month

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

We eat out every weekend at about 4,000 baht and our shopping is probably 6,000 a month.

Nightlife and drinking

Nope....we have 2 kids so it is tins of beer from the local shops at 40 baht a pop

Books, computers

We have school laptops and the girls have iPads. I listen to a lot of books whilst driving via Youtube and Audible.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

Absolutely stunning. Even with us both being well qualified, promoted secondary teachers and doing well, there is no way we could live like this in the UK.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

The North, as in scenery and staying in places up there. Most things here in Bangkok are on a par with other big cities now.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

We have been spoilt by having been in Thailand since the last century. I need my 140,000 a month like a squirrel requires nuts.

Phil's analysis and comment

Thank you Carl. So it sounds like you work at an international school as well and you and your wife's combined salaries come to 280,000 baht a month. I'm sure the two kids put a decent dent in that but it still allows for a good standard of living. 


Please send us your cost of living surveys. We would love to hear from you! This is one of the most popular parts of the Ajarn website and these surveys help and inspire a lot of other teachers. Just click the link at the top of the page where it says 'Submit your own Cost of Living survey' or click here. 


Karl

Working in Beijing, China

Monthly Earnings 193,000 baht after tax

Q1. How is that income broken down? (full-time salary, private students, on-line teaching, extra work, etc)

I receive 139,000 baht a month after tax for my salary. I work at a near top tier international school in Beijing. I don't privates or any other work. I also get a 37,000 baht a month accommodation allowance paid by the school for single teachers (teaching couples get more) plus a 325,000 baht end of (two year) contract bonus and a 46,000 baht yearly travel allowance.

Q2. How much money can you save each month?

It depends, as at an international school we enjoy around 13 weeks a year holiday including a long summer break, Christmas and Chinese New Year holiday, and a Spring break. So for the months I'm on holiday, I probably don't save much since I enjoy nice hotels and flying short haul business class. I usually holiday in Thailand. I aim to save between 70,000 and 90,000 baht a month.

Q3. How much do you pay for your accommodation and what do you live in exactly (house, apartment, condo)?

I have a duplex 3-bedroom modern apartment in an expat district of Beijing. The school gives me 37,000 baht a month for accommodation and this is the full cost of my apartment. I could find cheaper and smaller but I like the extra space even though I live alone.

Q4. What do you spend a month on the following things?

Transportation

I don't do buses or the metro. Most of my trips are short Uber rides away (in China it is called DiDi). This equates to around 3,000 to 4,000 baht a month. I also have an electric scooter that I use for short journeys when I am not drinking.

Utility bills

Around 2,000 to 3,000 baht a month for electric, water, mobile phone and internet.
I also pay 5,000 baht a month for a cleaner to come twice a week.

Food - both restaurants and supermarket shopping

I like my imported groceries and spend around 3,000 to 4,000 baht a week on shopping. I am a single person so I don't need much. I eat at home mostly during the week but sometimes order in, spending up to 1,000 to 2,000 baht a week in restaurants.

Nightlife and drinking

I am a huge craft beer monster (but I am trying to cut down). This can be quite expensive but local Chinese places are cheaper and more reasonable. I probably spend around 5,000 baht a month in bars on beer and food because I try to limit going out to once a week.

Books, computers

I have a MacBook Pro, iPhone 12 and an older iPad, I don't buy many books. I bought these over the last three years so hard to say how much I've spent monthly on these. Probably around 3,500 baht a month over the last three years.

Q5. How would you summarize your standard of living in one sentence?

I feel like I live quite a privileged life compared to friends back home and a lot of locals.

Q6. What do you consider to be a real 'bargain' here?

I think the local Uber cars are really cheap and comfortable which is why I don't use public transport at all.

Q7. In your opinion, how much money does anyone need to earn here in order to survive?

'Survive' is a difficult word to use. I have earned less in China and still lived a good life by eating and drinking at local places. I have decent medical insurance but medical bills can be expensive without it. I would say for a decent standard of living, 90,000 baht a month would be ok and you could even save a little and take regular holidays.

Phil's analysis and comment

There's not much I can add to this by way of comments. When you fly around business class, live in a luxury apartment, take Uber taxis everywhere, etc and still manage to save 70-90K a month, life must be pretty amazing. 


Showing 5 Cost of Living surveys out of 353 total

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